SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. — Often called the blueberry capital of the world — or at least one of them — this southwestern Michigan port town is celebrating its 49th annual National Blueberry Festival in August.
A fine vacation destination in itself, the yearly celebration of all things blueberry is another reason to head to this beach town just two hours by car from Chicago. South Haven is in Michigan's Van Buren County, which boasts status as the largest blueberry-producing county in the United States, contributing about 40 percent of Michigan's blueberry yield of about 115 million pounds annually.
The party gets started on a Thursday — this year Aug. 9 — and is filled with events through Sunday.
South Haven is a small town, and much of the festival takes place close to the beaches, so if the weather's good, you'll have blue skies, blue water, blue fruit and lots of rock 'n' roll at Riverfront Park. It's not clear if any of the bands on the schedule play the blues, but at least one of the bands includes a blueberry farmer.
It's small-town America on display, though, with a blueberry queen riding a float in the blueberry parade, a blueberry pie-eating contest for kids, a classic-car show, three pancake breakfasts — yes, blueberry pancakes — an ice cream social, an arts and craft fair, a diaper derby, a blueberry barbecue, a sand-sculpting contest, bingo and enough bands to keep everyone from feeling blue. For a complete schedule, visit blueberryfestival.com. Many of the events are free.
Bring your lawn chairs or blankets so you'll have a place to sit when the bands get cranking. The festival Main Stage is along the Black River, just a few hundred feet in from Lake Michigan, so if you've been at the beach, a towel will suffice.
This all sounds like a lot of fun, but there's serious business in blueberries too — not just from the perspective of growers but also in terms of healthy eating. With 80 calories per cup, the blue fruit provides a nutrient punch worth considering. Blueberries are packed with vitamin C and fiber and are a good source of manganese, which helps in converting food to energy.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, blueberries are high in antioxidants, which work to neutralize the free radicals that have been linked to the development of many diseases, including cancer.
Several farms in the South Haven area let you pick your own blueberries and get some exercise in pursuit of the healthy fruit. Two that I can recommend are Stephenson Farms (6783 Baseline Road, 269-637-4824) and DeGrandchamp Farms (76241 14th Ave., 269-637-3915). Stephenson Farms is small and casual and just off the Kal-Haven Trail bike path. DeGrandchamp, which farms 150 acres of blueberries, is a bit more elaborate.
Whether you pick your own or buy berries that other fingers have picked, you can get the fruit and many products made from it all around South Haven.
On the town's main drag is The Blueberry Store (525 Phoenix Road, 877-854-2400, theblueberrystore.com), which sells what you might expect — fresh, frozen and dried blueberries, blueberry syrup, blueberry preserves and pie fillings — and some things that might surprise you, such as blueberry coffee, blueberry barbecue sauce, blueberry mustard and blueberry truffles.
Here's to your health. Celebrate!Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun